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Department Of Design

Be Brave and Do What Excites You: Design Alum and Newly Appointed Illustration Chair Offers Advice

Casey Nelson is Appointed Chair of Illustration at Savannah College of Art and Design

Department of Design alum Casey Nelson has recently been appointed as chair of illustration at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Nelson received her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in illustration from BYU. Her professional career includes working as a freelance illustrator, teaching illustration classes at BYU and working for the Walt Disney Company as senior artist, character voice, writer and editor. Before being promoted to chair of illustration, Nelson was a professor and the associate chair of illustration at SCAD.

Casey Nelson, photo courtesy of Savannah College of Art and Design

Nelson shares with us her goals, best advice and fondest memories from her time at BYU.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in your new position?

Nelson: I'm excited to introduce a few new ideas into our rapidly growing illustration program. As Chair, I'm eager to introduce the students to a variety of industry professionals that represent many of the markets of illustration. I get nerdily excited about how broad the "illustration" umbrella is and it's thrilling to bring in people from all parts of our industry to share their professional experiences, review portfolios, have workshops and give professional level assignments to our students. My favorite part of teaching is being a cheerleader for students and helping them imagine the possibilities in their future. Now I get to do that for all 1400 of our illustration students!

Q: Are there any projects you’re working on that you can share with us?

Nelson: Outside of my duties at SCAD, I do a lot of freelance work. I recently illustrated Sister Bonnie Cordon's book, “Let Your Light Shine,” for Deseret Book; I'm finishing up a few illustrations for the church magazines; and I'm selling paintings and prints of my work.

Q: Is there anything that you learned during your time as an undergrad at BYU that has prepared you to take on this new role?

Nelson: My time at BYU taught me a lot! I was incredibly fortunate to have phenomenal professors and talented peers. They encouraged me to work hard and constantly push myself. I took figure drawing courses every quarter and learned how to oil paint. These traditional experiences inform my digital work every day. Learning these things well created a great artistic language for me. As I teach character design classes, I'm able to talk about the body and how it works, how the clothes should lay on the figure, how to create dynamic silhouettes, how to understand form and how light affects color.

I created wonderful relationships at BYU. I got to work with some of my best friends from BYU for 16 years at the Walt Disney Company before I came to SCAD. I'm still in touch with many of my fellow BYU Illustrators — we cheer each other's successes and even share work opportunities.

Q: What advice do you have for current design students?

Nelson: First, be brave. There is no way I could have anticipated the trajectory my life has taken me. I had so many unexpected adventures. I've been fortunate enough to walk on the deck of the Black Pearl, visit Pixar, go to Disney Parks for free, perform in a motion capture suite at the Jim Henson Studios, work with Mickey Mouse and go to Comic Con — all for work! Never did I ever think, "I'm going to live in Georgia," but here I am! I changed my career 20 years into it, got my master's degree and became a professor. Talk about professional whiplash! But I love it. Teaching makes me incredibly happy.

Second, do things outside of art that excite you. I performed in ComedySportz in Provo while I lived there and I can't explain how helpful that has been. It was influential for my character work at Disney and so helpful in my teaching now. If you love performing, playing an instrument, participating in sports — do it! You will grow, create relationships and learn new skills that will make you better at whatever you do and will keep your imagination fresh.

Third, look for inspiration everywhere. Fill up sketchbooks from observation. Talk to people and learn their stories. Read. Watch movies that are known for good design. Watch good animation. Pay attention to what makes a game, piece of art or movie good and try to apply it to your own work. Take a walk and don't look down. Draw from life. I'd cross stitch that onto a pillow for every one of you if I could.